Three County Fair returning to form in Northampton

  • A view of Rockwell Amusements midway at sunset at the Three County Fair in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 7/1/2021 2:59:11 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Three County Fair’s record as the longest-running agricultural fair in the United States remains unbroken. On Labor Day weekend, the fair returns for the 204th consecutive year with all of its usual attractions — demolition derby, livestock competitions, carnival-style games, and rides. 

“We are hoping for a return to what people are used to,” James Przypek, the fair’s general manager, said. The fair returns on Friday, Sept.  3 through Monday, Sept. 6, at the Three County Fairgrounds at 54 Fair St. Other attractions people can expect include arts and crafts competitions, live music concerts, area food trucks, and comedy variety shows. 

“There was certainly no pressure to keep an event going that started before the Civil War,” Przypek said in a tongue-in-cheek remark before adding, “It feels good to keep the legacy going. Everyone who supports the fair can take pride in that.” 

New to the fair this year will be a few acts that have gotten attention under the national spotlight. Katherine Winston, of Lenox and American Idol fame, will be performing. Stand-up comedian and hypnotist Kellie Karl of Las Vegas will mesmerize and entrance fairgoers. And Wacky Chad, who performed twice on America’s Got Talent, will bring his stunt comedy routine to the fairgrounds.

The fair’s claim that it is the oldest and most continuous in the nation is one backed up by the federal government. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes the Three County Fair as the oldest ongoing fair in continuous operation in the United States with the first one taking place October 14-15, 1818, and every year since without interruption, including last year. 

In 2020, due to the pandemic, the Three County Fair did not open to the general public. Instead, the fair had a limited opening only for exhibitors who were allowed to compete in agricultural shows — for oxen, cows and rabbits, for example — but without spectators. The rules under Gov. Baker’s state of emergency at the time did not allow for more than 100 people to gather, which limited capacity to only exhibitors at last year’s fair. 

The decision by the Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden Agricultural Society, the group that manages the fair, however, allowed the fair’s legacy to remain intact.

“To get to this point, we had to put several measures in place,” Przypek said.

The measures included reducing office staff from seven to just one, pay reductions, and cutting back on expenses and deferring any possible bills. There are other employees who take care of the grounds, Przypek said, but he is the lone full-time office employee. Recently, some employees have returned in a part-time capacity.

“With the volume of phone calls and visits, you could have 100 people” helping in the office, Przypek said. “There are so many pieces of the fair that need to come together.” 

The fair typically hires 50 to 60 people for temporary jobs at large events, such as parking attendants, gate attendants, ticket scanners, cashiers, bar staff.

“It adds up,” Przpek said.  

The financial fallout from the pandemic last year meant nearly $1 million in lost revenue. The fair was able to host four horse shows in April and May that helped offset some of the lost revenue. The events were closed to the general public and were only open to competitors. 

“We were working under the state guidelines for sporting events,” Przypek said. “That helped with some of the financial stimulus coming back to the fair.” 

Przypek told the Gazette in February that the federal CARES Act helped keep the organization afloat. The fairground's solar system, built more than eight years ago, along with the organization's successful winter storage business and the "generosity of many of our directors" allowed the organization to trudge through the harsh winter. 

Additionally, last spring, the organization received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which was used and forgiven, and then a second loan helped keep prospects for a fair in 2021 alive.

The loans helped pay the organization's bills throughout the past year, and one of the final hurdles for the organization will be to get its second loan forgiven, which it expects to find out about in the next month, according to Przypek. 

Tickets for this year’s fair go on sale July 1 at discounted prices for general admission and four-day passes, available at only 3countyfair.com. 

Parking also will be free at the fairgrounds this year as well to incentivize returning and new visitors, according to Przypek. "We also know that everyone had a rough fourteen months to weather," he said. 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.


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